Case Study

Akanksha Foundation Schools

Akanksha Foundation
Nongovernmental Organization
Maharashtra, India
Improve learning and development


The Akanksha Foundation was founded in 1991 with the goal of delivering high-quality education to every child, regardless of the child’s background. Founder Shaheen Mistri, then an 18-year-old college student, realized how many thousands of children lacked access to a quality education. After volunteering to teach 15 students after school in a donated classroom, Mistri expanded the after-school initiative to improve learning and well-being outcomes for disadvantaged students to a network of 60 centers over the next 16 years (Akanksha Foundation, n.d.a). The idea was simple: leverage underutilized spaces and support students with professional social workers and community volunteers. Realizing the need to work with government schools to make an impact at scale, the Akanksha School Project was established in 2007. The project works in collaboration with the Municipal Corporations of Mumbai and Pune, which govern the civic needs and infrastructure in each city.

Both Mumbai and Pune are cities in the state of Maharashtra, which is India’s second-most populous state and home to 18.9 million primary- and secondary-level students enrolled in 113,526 public and private schools (Government of Maharashtra School Education and Sports Department, n.d.). Despite a poverty rate 4 percentage points lower than the national average and an enrollment rate 4 percentage points above the national average for students in classes 1-10 (N. Aayog, 2020), Maharashtra still has a significant problem with school dropout rates, which have risen by around half a percentage point for upper primary and upper secondary students from 2016 to 2018 (S. Murudkar, personal communication, July 20, 2021).

Rather than developing a one-time program, Akanksha has created a scalable school model within the government system that drives wider system reform. To this end, it has codified a school development plan focusing first on its core educational values of academic achievement, community engagement, and holistic youth development and well-being. These values are framed as social, emotional, and ethical learning. Each new school in the network begins with a goal-setting process to develop its own ethos in line with these values. Parent engagement, however, serves as a grounding mission across all schools.

Akanksha schools hold themselves accountable for four major community engagement goals: engaging parents as partners in learning, engaging parents as partners in student socio-emotional development, nurturing whole-family well-being, and building family economic resilience. Engagement takes a variety of forms, including representation in School Management Committees (SMCs), parent education programs, in-school partnership opportunities, and individual psychosocial support through dedicated social workers. Parents are invited to regularly participate in their child’s education through events such as quarterly home visits and annual goal-setting meetings that focus on nurturing children who can contribute positively to society. Families actively participate in the SMCs. Engaging parents as partners goes beyond specific programming; it is embedded into the community culture. Parents affectionately call teachers “big brother” or “big sister,” while families mill about in administrative offices to chat before school (Akanksha Foundation, n.d.b).

As of August 2021, there were 27 Akanksha schools in Mumbai and Pune, reaching over 9,800 students. Akanksha students outperform their state school peers in the class 10 state board examinations. They also have higher levels of completion, with 95 percent of the 2019-20 cohort passing class 12, as opposed to 91 percent in the state overall (Akanksha Foundation, n.d.b).


Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Primary, Lower Secondary
Tech level: No Tech
Lever: Providing Information, Building Relationships
Place: School
Family role: Supporting
Parents shadowing students during Parent Week: Akanksha schools invite parents to week-long open houses, where parents can experience their child’s schooling firsthand. Teachers first speak with parents about the school’s teaching and learning model, as well as annual goals and pedagogical changes. This represents, for example, a switch to presenting students with the practical, real-life purpose of all lessons at the start of class. Parents then sit in on classes anywhere in the school. During and after class, parents are encouraged to provide general feedback on the curriculum and teaching methods. Rather than redesign the curriculum, parents give feedback about how practices could better align with the school’s shared goals. One father, for instance, noted that the teacher had forgotten to present the applicability of a math concept at the start of the lesson. He proceeded to share how he used this topic in his own construction work and prompted teachers to solicit real-world examples from parents for future lessons (S. Murudkar, personal communication, July 20, 2021). This practice of open dialogue and constructive feedback reportedly builds parent-school trust, showing families that they are welcome to share their thoughts and concerns. It further ensures parents feel they have a role in their child’s education and prepares them to confidently support learning at home.

Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Primary, Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary
Tech level: No Tech
Lever: Designing
Place: School
Family role: Supporting, Creating
Parent skill-building team: Every Akanksha school has a team of volunteer parents tasked with identifying skill and knowledge gaps in the broader parent community. This volunteer team meets semimonthly with a school social worker, who helps the team members informally survey their peers and analyze emergent needs. Specifically, the team focuses on the gaps most preventing parents from supporting student development in the home. The school social worker then develops individually targeted and group training based on these needs. For example, if parents identify struggles with financial planning, social workers walk families through money management materials. Staff might note household issues around sanitation and nutrition and then invite parents to enroll in a weekend course on the topic.

Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Early Childhood
Tech level: No Tech
Lever: Building Skills, Providing Resource
Place: School
Family role: Supporting
English language workshops and materials for parents: Akanksha schools supply bilingual materials at the preprimary level to help parents reinforce their child’s learning of the English language at home, regardless of parents’ level of proficiency with the English language. As the majority of Akanksha students are first- or second-generation English speakers, these resources allow parents to support their child’s learning of the English language while also improving parents’ language skills. Many Akanksha schools also run optional spoken English workshops for parents to build their confidence in English and better support their child’s learning journey.

Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Primary, Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary
Lever: Building Relationships
Tech level: No Tech
Place: Home
Family role: Not Engaged
Ongoing teacher home visits: Every Akanksha teacher, leader, and social worker is required to visit the home of each of their students at least once a quarter. Students who face more significant challenges at home receive additional visits each month. These regular check-ins allow teachers to understand the family’s unique routines and needs in order to better support their learning and well-being. With this direct communication channel, teachers can develop genuine connections with parents through conversations in an informal setting. For example, if a teacher realizes a student is not getting homework done on time because the student’s home environment is too loud, the teacher might strategize with the parents to implement “quiet hours” in the home or connect the student with another Akanksha student to study with. Home visits reportedly create significant improvements in communication and trust between schools and families.

Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary
Tech level: No Tech
Lever: Building Relationships, Shifting Mindsets
Place: School
Family role: Supporting
Workshops for student-parent relationship building: Given the strong correlation between parent engagement and improved learning outcomes, the Akanksha Foundation attempts to curtail the loss of meaningful relationships between parents and their children as their children age. In order to combat this, Akanksha schools hold annual in-school workshops to maintain and rebuild these connections. Workshops take place in a controlled classroom environment, facilitated by a teacher and a social worker. Parents and their children are asked to sit facing each other, look into each other’s eyes, hold hands, and have conversations through a series of scripted questions. These questions begin with lighthearted topics, such as favorite foods, and progress to deeper subjects, such as most embarrassing moments or life aspirations. Facilitators note marked changes, as parents who were initially embarrassed to look into their child’s eyes or sit close together become much more comfortable doing so by the end of the school year.

Goal: Improve learning and development
Student age: Primary, Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary
Tech level: No Tech
Lever: Building Relationships, Building Skills
Place: School
Family role: Supporting, Creating
Annual parent-student goal setting: Teachers meet annually with each parent and student to discuss aims and expectations for the year, with a focus on parents’ role in supporting their child’s development. Goals range from academic to social or even home-based engagement, such as developing stronger family ties. Goal setting is always framed as a positive development: Parents are not called in to discuss student problems. Teachers then bring in social workers to focus on improving parents’ skills in areas that support this goal, such as using a calculator to help students with their homework or creating a homework schedule to facilitate the child’s at-home studies.



  • Teachers and school leaders cofacilitate School Management Committees through monthly meetings alongside parents.
  • Social workers teach parents skills ranging from hygiene and nutritional awareness to effective parenting and financial organization, to build their knowledge and to support students’ well-being.
  • Teachers invite parents to visit their child’s classrooms to increase their familiarity with the material and communicate with teachers.


  • Parents represent their interests on SMCs to advise the school team on school improvement and take ownership of plan implementation.
  • Parents volunteer in their child’s school and in workshops, theater productions, and other activities that address key issues such as women’s empowerment, substance abuse, and physical violence.
  • Parents sit in on their child’s classrooms to better understand and contribute to school lesson plans and curricula to support their child’s learning.
  • Parents participate in extracurricular activities, including theater productions. For example, parents and staff of one Akanksha school produced and performed “Theatre of the Oppressed,” an interactive play with the goal of raising awareness on the topic of the physical abuse of children.
  • Parents reinforce their child’s English language learning at home through bilingual materials and the English parent literacy program.

Resources required


  • Approximately nine central office staff
  • At least one trained social worker at each Akanksha school


  • Akanksha model schools may be newly built or designed in existing school structures.


  • Government municipal corporations provide Akanksha with school buildings and student essentials. Nongovernment funders support the Akanksha Foundation by funding the operational costs of the school and programs.

How do they do it?

In order to achieve vision alignment within Akanksha schools, parents are guided through an exploration of their personal goals for their children. Often, students are first-generation learners, so their parents tend to first express their aspirations around academic and professional outcomes, such as learning English or getting into university. The Akanksha team probes deeper aspirations in line with its vision of developing value-driven citizens by asking how parents want their students to be as people. Through ongoing conversations, Akanksha has determined that the greatest point of alignment between schools and parents is the desire for children to be people who contribute positively to society. With this reflection, Akanksha unlocks shared goals around cultivating good people. The schools further cement this shared vision, which discounts neither academic achievement nor holistic development, by inviting successful Akanksha alumni, such as those who have started nongovernmental organizations, to share their stories.

A codified but flexible school model enables Akanksha schools to support student achievement, youth development, and community engagement. This model, implemented in all Akanksha schools, includes values such as excellent educators, progressive pedagogy, maximizing resources, parents as partners, and accountability to learning. No one individual leads parent engagement; instead, this value is ingrained in every member of the staff. Engaging parents as partners is a core pillar of all network schools. Adaptable measurements, procedures, and strategies are centrally documented to ensure all schools are striving toward the same core educational vision.

Collaborative goal setting is understood as an ongoing process. Formal events are held throughout the year, including a series of value discussions with new families and annual parent-student goal meetings. But these are enabled by the idea that the school is a family, where teachers are referred to as “big brother” or “big sister” and invite parents to sit and share with students and staff at any time.

The cultural partnership and respect between schools and parents, stemming from family and student needs, allows parents to be actively involved and supportive of their child’s education and development through various hands-on, in-school strategies for parents, directly guided by school staff. Furthermore, the focus on holistic well-being through progressive pedagogy extends not only to students but also to parents and community members. This established focus on 21st-century skills, socio-emotional learning, and social awareness equips parents with the tools they need to productively and confidently engage with the school community and society as a whole.

Resources and testimonials

Participant voices from independent CUE-led parent focus group discussions

  • “My younger son Tanishk is in Akanksha. His teachers teach with the help of games, so my younger son attends the classes happily. But for my elder son [who is not in an Akanksha school], his teachers only give lectures and keep on talking one-sided, so he gets bored. Younger son joins classes happily, not the elder one.” – Maharashtra parent 1 (personal communication, December 2020)
  • “The teachers of Akanksha Foundation, who think so much about the children, we also like it that these people also think so much about our children.” – Maharashtra parent 2 (personal communication, December 2020)

Voices from the foundation

  • “Instead of referring to their teachers as sir or ma’am, students and parents alike address teachers as ‘didi’ or ‘bhaiya’: big bro or big sis. If a student fails to complete their homework regularly, instead of punishment, the student’s parents will be brought into the school to have a planning meeting with the student and teacher, where they will collaboratively implement a working plan to support the child both at school and at home.” – S. Murudkar, director of Akanksha Foundation schools (personal communication, June 10, 2021)


Akanksha Foundation. (n.d.a). About.

Akanksha Foundation. (n.d.b). Our impact.

Government of Maharashtra School Education and Sports Department. (n.d.). School dashboard.